Character of the Week: Dead Girl Names

Remember how I said that I belong to a Jane Austen book club.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, mid-20s
She was born and raised in a small town in the Northeastern portion of New York state.
Her father was an auto mechanic and overall a shady character. He abandoned their family when the FMC was around ten and hasn’t been heard from much since. Her mother is a photographer and dreamed of escaping her small town, but never did. She’s incredibly quiet and is an avid reader of romance novels. She was born in Texas, lived in Germany for a time, and ended up in the same town where the FMC was born when she was a teenager. Both parents are in their mid- to late-40s.
Father – Roger, Mother – Anne, Sister – Lydia
Nathaniel – the MMC that the story is centered around, close friends and romantic interest of FMC though he was not aware of the fact; Penelope – FMC’s very self-centered best friend; Scott – Penny’s husband
When she was alive (because she actually dies just prior to the events in the novel), she was an interior decorator (I think, though that might change) and also dabbled in photography like her mother. She was a very compassionate and caring individual, very nurturing. She was, despite outward appearances that claimed otherwise, a very sad and lonely girl.
Literary Fiction

When I’m naming contemporary characters, I take some influence from the character’s personality and background and mix it with my personal experience. Here I noted that the mother is an avid reader of Romances and that the sister is named Lydia. I decided to offer another Jane Austen name for this character, along with other names I felt could fit for this lonely and artistic young woman.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Katherine (Kitty or Kit): Pride and Prejudice reference
  • Naomi
  • Abigail (Abs)
  • Lizette
  • Monica

The writer replied: Thanks so much for this. I had actually considered Katherine before, but I think this just cemented the idea. I really appreciate the help.

Maybe this writer is also a Jane Austen fan, or maybe I just stumbled on a name that fit her sensibilities. I do find it interesting how names can resonate with people for different reasons.

Character of the Week: South England Names

I can guess why this writer never replied.

The Writer Describes the Character

Thanks for doing this, it could be useful 🙂

Female, born around 1982
Born in a posh area in Southern England. Parents were rich and posh; so far they’re called Andrew and Harriet.
Siblings names: Sapphire, Henry.
Love interest: Harry (clear distinction from other’s name)
Friends: Madeline and Brooklyn, fun, hyperactive young girls around 17/18
She is shy, humble, gentle and caring.
Romance

I usually delete the “pre-Thanks” that people put into their requests, for a variety of reasons, but between this being Thanksgiving week and that tacked on “it could be useful” I thought you should see it this week. While that tack could be sarcastic, meaning that the writer was certain it would be useful, it could also be an indication that the writer didn’t care for any opinions beyond his or her own.

I think the second is even more likely given the writer stating that Harry is a “clear distinction from other’s name”. Even if the characters are clearly distinct, the names are NOT. In fact Harry is both a nickname for Henry and for Harriet, a fact that any Brit or Britophile would be aware of given that Prince Harry is truly named Prince Henry.

I suggested some beautiful names used in England for this character, but only after giving my real opinion.

My Reply to the Writer

Harriet, Henry and Harry are way too close in sound and style for any story to handle. You have to kill two of those names. I’m going to suggest (practically beg) you to change Harriet, because it is so old fashioned that it would be more appropriate for the grandmother than for the mother. I offer Fiona or Pauline as replacements. Then change either the boyfriend’s name or the brother’s name, because you don’t want readers mixing them up.

  • Imogen
  • Gemma
  • Sian
  • Clover
  • Jemima

I stand by my advice that you NEVER want readers to confuse your main character’s brother with her love interest or vice versa. Even if one name wasn’t the well-known and oft used nickname of the other, a fast reader is likely to read the two names as the same.

Please readers, this week especially be thankful for the advice you receive from others because they can often see what you don’t see.

Name Theory: Vamping for Names

Vampires aren’t as big as they used to be.

For a while werewolves were making a run for the money, but that went to the dogs. Then came zombies, and they are still rambling along. Angels were big for about a moment, but then they flew away. Aliens were tried, but never really landed. Fairies are still trying to take off.

Still vampires creep around in the darkness. They are not favorites of agents and publishers, but they still hold some of the market. And they are very much alive and well in self-publishing.

Readers are still enthralled with paranormal. Readers of romance especially have always been looking for a bit of fantasy mixed with their real-life aspirations, so these larger than life paranormal characters still attract those readers. And, you must remember, romance readers can be voracious.

Some may believe paranormal is trite, but as long as vampires sell I will name them. Send me your blood-drinkers, your demons, and fiends. They are much more exciting to name than every Tom, Dick, or Harry.

Character of the Week: Artist Names (and Appreciation)

[Please excuse this blog’s lateness. My computer wasn’t cooperating with me yesterday.]

Remember last week when I said writing—and naming—were work. This writer understood that fact.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 23 or 24 (born August 30, 1988)

She grew up in a nice if not well-off neighborhood tucked away in the back roads of Dayton, Ohio. Well-educated, super-smart, public schooling, and graduated from Stanford with a degree in art. She now lives in a posh part of London, with her partner, Julian.

Her mother, Peyton, was a stay-at-home mom, living off her previous husband’s life insurance. Her Father, Neal Archer, was coaching little league baseball, when they fell in love. 

She has one ex-husband, Michael, who cheated on her with her sister, Isobel, and his secretary, Mira Caprice.

Other characters are: Julian Lazarus, Michael Anderson, Pamela Jenkins, and Vivian Michaels.

Art is her passion, and she often spends hours painting portraits of landscapes, messy colors. Blunt, kind, caring, lacks modern day society etiquette skills, sensible fashion taste, disagreeable, hot-tempered. She doesn’t like to take crap from anyone. She has brown eyes, layered, golden-blond hair, and an angular face, with high-cheekbones, and a lightly glossed mouth.

Romance

Female, 29-32 (born March 2)

This second character is a high-strung, middle-class woman, approximately. 

She has no romantic interest yet, but she had a long-term boyfriend, Henry, who had an affair and left her heart-broken. She was raised in a small town in New Hampshire, and graduated top of her class, both in high-school and from college (graduated with a medical degree).

All we know about her parents is that they were both doctors and disliked her from birth, not bothering to name her or even leave a note when they left her on the side of the road.

What no one knows is that she has a hardened heart because of the tragedies she’s faced, and can be very emotionally detached in situations dealing with emotion and truths.

She is supposed to make my MC jealous. Very pretty, curly, auburn hair, emerald eyes, and a white smile that knocks your socks off.

Despite my feeling like I didn’t quite understand this story, since the writer only gave me what I needed and didn’t give me the whole plot, this was a simple naming. Probably because the writer gave me what I needed.

As a young divorced woman in a Romance, I felt the first character needed a strong and sexy name—coupled with her return to her maiden name (if she ever gave it up to begin with).

The second woman, who is not the main main, got a more straight-forward name. I saw her as a hard ass with potential for a gooey core (I’ve known a few of these in my day).

My Reply to the Writer

  • Claudia Archer
  • Gabriella Archer
  • Alexis Archer
  • Alyssa Archer
  • Marisol Archer
  • Courtney
  • Chelsea
  • Heidi
  • Heather
  • Lauren

The writer replied: I’m going with Marisol and Lauren for my two mains. Thanks so much. Your names were helpful, and it was very fulfilling to know someone cared enough to do this. I appreciate it.

To this writer I say, You’re Welcome and Thanks for the Thanks.

Character of the Week: English Regency Miss Names

This is yet another character in search of a genre. Gothic Romance, perhaps?

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, about 18 years old in the 1790s or early 1800s 

She lives in the Southern English countryside. Her father owns a very small piece of land—he is a gentleman, but of small fortune. Her mother comes from a wealthier family. 

Other characters: Henry Taylor is a love interest; Mary and Anne are her sisters; her parents are John and Anne; her cousins are Charles and Louisa; her frenemy is Isabella; and her good friend is Eleanor or Caroline (Also undecided on that name!). She also interacts with Elizabeth and Edward, distant family members. 

She is stubborn, individualistic, believes herself to be better and smarter than everyone else, but she has a loving heart, and cares deeply for those dear to her. She is brave and will stand up for what she believes to be right. Oh—and she can see ghosts. 

Historical Fiction / Fantasy / Romance (I’m all over the place!) 

Today I would name this character differently. Today I know more than I did a few years ago.

With this character I tried to look up names from that time in English history, but (this is sad to admit) I did not realize that this time period was Georgian Era (AKA Regency Era in terms of fashion). I am now learning more about this era, the fashion, the manners, and Miss Jane Austen’s writings in particular. Now I would probably suggest that this writer choose surnames first, since those were more in use than Christian names for most people in that era.

My Reply to the Writer

Period accurate names beyond Mary or Elizabeth.

  • Augusta
  • Susannah
  • Amalia
  • Virginia
  • Sophie

This writer did not get back to me about the name chosen, but I don’t mind since I wish I could do this naming all over again. That’s how things go with writing: You make choices, you do your best on a deadline, and then you have to let go. Unless you actually get a chance to do it all over again.

 

Character of the Week: Runner Names

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was naming characters on the NaNoWriMo forum I asked the writers to answer a list of questions about the characters which would help me name them. Sometimes what I got was a jumble of some answers and some random bits, like today’s naming.

The Writer Describes the Character(s)

I need two characters named. One man. One woman. Both are runners. Woman speedy. Man slow. Woman compulsive, tidy, etc. Man not quite slovenly, but a little rough around the edges. Think hare and tortoise. I thought of Harriet for her, but thought that might be too obvious. I just came up with this plot tonight so I know nothing else that you ask. Oh, except the genre. Literary fiction disguised as romance or vice versa. It will be set in central Ohio, USA. One of them is probably from there while one is not. Both are mid-30s although a May to December thing wouldn’t be bad either. It’s set in the present. They’re probably opposite political parties and he likes dogs while she likes cats. 

Normally, I would rearrange this into a more readable form. Normally, I would have separated out the characters and their characteristics, and have taken out some of the ambiguity (like this writer’s description of the genre).

Most of the namings were not like this one. Most were generally in the form I requested (the form normally featured here). Still, in whichever form, I nearly almost edit the writer’s posts to me so you can understand them more easily and to take out spelling mistakes and other errors.

Today I thought I’d let you see something closer to what I saw, although I did correct a spelling mistake and another error.

As you can see, some of the details here are a little vague, and the writer isn’t set on either the characters or the plot. I did my best with what I was given, considering the feel of the names and what I believed might suit this odd couple.

My Reply to the Writer

Harriet is too long of a name. It reads slow. Also, it’s too old for your character. I suggest a peppy name that indicates quickness.

  • Gina
  • Dana
  • Jodi
  • Dawn
  • Amy
  • Terrance
  • Douglas
  • Stephen
  • Brutus
  • Shaun

The writer replied: Wow! You’re good. Thanks so much.

I don’t know if the writer chose one of these names, or what name was chosen, but today’s post is not about these characters so much as it is an illustration on editing and a door into what I hope to say on Wednesday.

Review: The Last Year Book Series by Trisha Leigh

I downloaded Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh several months ago when it was free on Amazon. I began to read it almost immediately, which is saying something. It is exactly the kind of book I normally enjoy: Young Adult, first person, female narrator, lite Science-Fiction, with Romance.

I was predisposed to like this novel (and the series), but there have been other books that should have fit the bill but didn’t. Whispers in Autumn surpassed my meager expectations, and the series (The Last Year) has become one of my favorites.

Some of the things I loved about this book, and the whole series:

  • Those covers! (It had to be said.)
  • Each novel was complete, while leading directly into the next in the series.
  • The consequences of the characters’ choices increased as the story continued.
  • The characters had to deal with realistic losses.
  • The ending was happy, but tempered by the characters’ reality.
  • While there was a love triangle, it wasn’t the most important thing in any of the characters’ lives.
  • There is a gay character who struggles to understand his feelings in a world where differences and emotions have been severely limited. His being gay is not that big of a deal to our heroine (his friend).
  • The series was serious without being dark, so I can see myself re-reading it in its entirety.
  • I liked the names.

I bet you were waiting for that last part. Weren’t you?

I did like the names in this series. There was a nice balance between familiar but unusual, common, and rare names. I’ll touch on some of the categories of names.

  • The four dissidents were given names from their human parents’ cultures (if you read it, you’ll understand). Althea, our heroine, is an American-born girl with an unusual name which is not “out there”. Lucas, the boy she meets in the first book, had a French mother who gave him a popular name (which is especially popular as a character name). Pax, the boy she meets in the second book, had a mother from Brazil who gave him a rare name which probably came from her faith. Deshi, a boy with a Chinese mother, rounds out the quadrille with an interesting name for a conflicted character.
  • Their human friends have mostly familiar names, some common and some not so common. Leah, Brittany, and company have names that do a good job of making the world feel familiar and real.
  • The Others, the aliens who are the villains of the story, have an interesting naming convention. Those who are named seem to have names that are grown from common nicknames with a –j ending. So we have Zakej, Natej, and Kendaja. I love the simple way the author gave the aliens names that kept them culturally similar, while not being difficult for readers to pronounce or connect with.

I really loved The Last Year series, and I hope that if you like this type of story that you will give this series a chance. When I started reading self-published novels I found on Amazon I wasn’t sure if they could compare to the level of quality of published novels. They can. This series did.

I think that part of the reason why I enjoyed this series so much is that Trisha Leigh was a professional. She hired a development editor and a copy editor, and she hired a book cover artist. I would consider hiring all of them. As a writer, especially as a “poor” writer, I do not say this lightly. I have read other self-published novels that were “professionally” edited which did not compare to this series on any level.

Trisha Leigh hired good people, and she obviously took their advice. I look forward to reading her up-coming series and following her career.

Character of the Week: Reincarnated Prince Names

This naming brings up a pet peeve of many readers; one which I admit I have some trouble with.

Male, 28
He’s a reincarnation of a prince (it sounds horribly cliché when written down like this, oh dear). In the past he lived in the kingdom’s capital, but nowadays he resides in an up-market area of town (if you’ve ever been to the Cotswolds, feel free to picture some of the towns there).
His parents were the monarchs of the kingdom, but to be honest, they have very little to do with the novel. I can imagine them being conservative, and maybe working in business (CEO, maybe, for the father).
His mother is called Clarissa, but I haven’t named his father. His love interests are called Quinn, who is the novel’s other main character, and Carol.
He’s honorable and spontaneous, to the point of being rash. Strong willed and impatient, he can be too much for people. He follows his heart, and hardly ever his head. He has a choleric temperament. He’s been in the forces, but has already left.
Psychological/Romance

This one was a little hard to place for me. The writer gives the genre as Psychological/Romance (I think this means it is a Thriller?), but does not make it clear if this is Historical Fantasy, Contemporary, Dystopian, or strait Fantasy (or something else entirely?). I am also confused as to the plot and the character (who are this reincarnation’s new parents?).

Since I felt I didn’t have a good understanding of this plot and character, I chose to focus on the names given. I tried to think of names that would go with those names, while being a bit distinctive (since I assume this is some kind of Fantasy novel, and since he is the main character). Reading the other names, though, told me something particular about this writer’s taste in names.

I just want to point out that the three names you’ve given all have the same beginning sound (K): Clarrissa, Quinn, Carol. I would strongly suggest changing one or two of them, specifically Carol (which is old sounding).

  • Torin
  • Merrick
  • Chance
  • Lachlan
  • Ramsey

The writer replied: Thank you for pointing that out; I hadn’t noticed that I’d been doing it. I’ll definitely change Carol. I like Chance, so I’m going to go with that one. Thanks for helping me, I really appreciate it!

I’ve seen many readers complain about a story having too many characters whose names either start with the same letter or whose names sound similar (e.g. Jean, Joan, and Jane). I have also seen many writers’ naming advice focus on using different letters for each character.

You know that I always advise you to choose names that will help your readers, either by giving them a feel for the character or specifically not choosing a name that is difficult to read. So, I understand that because readers (and writers, apparently) see a problem with too many names with the same sound, that it therefore is a problem. Here I gave the writer that (unsolicited) advice.

Unfortunately, I also gave another C name to choose in my list, and the reader did just that! Obviously this writer loves that letter and the usual sound (K) associated with it. I broke my own advice to the writer because the name had a different sound, but I fear that this story will end up with many other C names or names which begin with the K sound.

Character of the Week: Latin Lover Names

This is Valentine’s week, and it is also my anniversary—my blog’s anniversary. In honor of this I chose a Latin Lover for my character of the week.

Male, early 20s (in 1714)
He lives in the Caribbean and is Spanish.
He’s the lover of my MC Guinevere.
He’s a fire-eater and travels around with some other acrobats and artists. He’s very kind and gentle, and I try to make him funny. He loves to draw but isn’t very good at that.
Historical Romance

The only name this writer mentions is a Welsh one, which I believe was chosen in part to depict a sense of time. I too looked for a sense of time when I chose names for the main character’s lover. I searched the names of Spanish explorers for inspiration of names in use at that time, and chose names that would sound appropriate to modern readers.

A note: I wouldn’t always suggest Inigo, as it is very strongly associated with one specific character, but I felt it was appropriate for this character and had just the right blend of sexy and artistic.

  • Inigo
  • Leon
  • Cristobal
  • Gonzalo
  • Luis

The writer did not reply to me, so I don’t know what name was chosen for this character. As I sit here saying each name out loud (Inn-ee-go, Lee-own, Cris-toh-baal, Gohn-zah-loh, Loo-ees), they each still read as I hoped they would: Romantic, Spanish names in use at that time, which make the wearer sound intriguing.

Name Theory: Romance Readers’ Name Discussion

I found a thread discussion on Amazon.com the other day with readers talking about character names that took them out of the story. They were specifically speaking of Romance character names, which made the whole discussion even more interesting given the ridiculousness of some of those names.

Outside of the “unbelievable” names, there were several points that readers made about names that they felt ruined or threatened to ruin the story for them.

Some readers had a hard time with heroes who shared their father’s or brother’s names. In fact, one reader found a book where the hero shared her father’s first and last name, and she had a really hard time getting through the book because of that.

This is not really something a writer can work around. You certainly can’t plan to avoid the names of all of your readers’ relatives, but this could be a reason to avoid the 20 most popular names or so. For Romance heroes there seems to be a good reason to use a less popular name, if only because your readers’ fathers probably won’t share that name.

Still, the name should be something that a person would be named. Names for both heroes and heroines that were too rare, and especially first/last name combos that were out of the realm of possibility, annoy readers. Yes, we all know people with crazy names, and I even know of a weatherman named Storm Field (if you can believe that), but that doesn’t mean that any of these crazy names would read well. You don’t want your readers to laugh at your hero or heroine—unless they say something brilliantly witty.

Just remember, then, it should be something the characters say that is witty, rather than you trying to show your wit. Some readers took notice of names that were “inspired” by historical characters, but which came off as cheesy in the new Romance novel. Even when the story is a retelling of a classic story, readers seem to appreciate names that only reference the original names rather than rehash them.

By far, though, the biggest complaint in Romance novel names was unisex names. This is a pet peeve of mine, you may remember. The readers complained that they couldn’t tell the heroes from the heroines, had trouble visualizing the characters, and that they couldn’t keep all the characters genders straight in novels with several gender neutral—or really, gender bending—names (especially in series with those names).

This complaint was only compounded when the Romance novel was a historical. Readers wanted names that would be appropriate to the time period, and even if the writer did chose rare names the readers didn’t want to see a name that was historically a masculine name on a female, even if the name has “gone to the girls” nowadays. If a name like Ashley or Courtney were used, the readers would prefer to see them on a man—although, maybe not on the hero.

Readers of Romance are generally well read, and readers who love historicals generally love the history behind the times, so it is imperative that the writers do some research into appropriate details like names. Granted, there will always be readers who know more about a given time period than the writer did—there are a lot more readers out there than writers, so the numbers are ever in their favor. Still, the writer should do his or her best to make their historicals at least feel accurate, by using the appropriate names and settings at a minimum. If the reader can at least “see” the characters and setting clearly, she or he may forgive other mistakes, but knowing obscure facts about bloodletting will not curry the readers’ favor if you name your historical heroine Maxwell.

As always, my greatest advice in character naming is to consider the readers before you make a final name decision. While you may write for yourself—and you should!—if you plan or hope to publish, your editing should be done for the sake of the readers who want to love your words (including your characters’ names).